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"Molto Italiano: 327 Simple Italian Recipes"

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#1 Kevin72

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Posted 04 July 2005 - 06:20 AM

I have to admit that when I first read the teaser description of Molto Italiano: 327 Simple Italian Recipes to Cook at Home on Amazon last fall, I was worried. Had Mario gone the way of Rachel Ray and FoodTV in general and surrendered to the “quick and easy” path that seems to plague the cookbook shelves at bookstores these days?

As it turns out, there was nothing to be worried about. This is still the same old Mario, who can give a 5 second breakdown of Pugliese cuisine, make an obscure reference to a Rolling Stones song, and grill an octopus tentacle without pausing for a breath in between. So, while the subtitle includes the word “simple”, this is not the stuff of other FTV shows like Everyday Italian or 30 Minute Meals. You’ll find sweet and sour calves’ tongue, tripe, the aforementioned grilled octopus, and an anchovy and almond soup in these pages. In fact I’d say that “simple” is in fact a misnomer or at the least a relative term here: recipes do call for making the pasta yourself, or making your own mustard fruits, Cremona-style.

The book is staggering in its scope and depth, and nearly every recipe has a beautiful, artfully composed full-color photograph by Beatriz da Costa to accompany it. It’s laid out in the usual Italian fashion, flowing from antipasti, to soups, to pasta, then onto seafood, meat, vegetables, and desserts. As always, his pasta recipes, both for dried and fresh pasta, seem to be the standout, and truly are “simple”, if you can get past making some of the pastas yourself. Peppered throughout are essays by Mario or other guest writers on Italian wine, the glories of cooking cephalopods, why ducks aren’t as popular in the U.S, and other varied topics, and Mario shares some of his dry, esoteric worldview in almost every pre-recipe writeup: when you break down a chicken, keep the thighs and legs and feed the breasts to the dog.

That said, anyone familiar with his previous books will be a little dismayed at the number of recycled recipes here. Too, some recipes are only subtly different from one another, with only a minor variation in technique or ingredient to stand apart. The book starts with two fried cauliflower fritters, and there’s three antipasti recipes for clams on the half-shell. I’d rather have seen them rolled up into one master recipe, with variations listed afterwards, rather than blow a whole extra page and photo on them.

Mario begins in the introduction by surveying his previous works as an overview of where he was at at each point in his career when he wrote them, and then continuing right up to this book, a summation of his total experiences with three cooking and two travel shows, and an ever-growing army of successful New York restaurants. It’s a look at the state of Italian food and cooking today, and he does indeed swing from Italian-American staples, to arch-regional specialties never dreamed of on these shores, to trademark, only-in-a Batali-owned-restaurant dishes. Mario’s strength has always been to walk the line between professional, restaurant-level cuisine and simple home-style cooking, and this is no exception. It’s hard not to argue that it doesn’t deserve a place on the cookbook shelf. Certainly anyone looking to get their first Mario cookbook should now begin (and almost end) here, but those with more familiarity of his previous works may have some misgivings.


I gave a few of the recipes from this book a spin and made a weeknight meal for some friends. Here’s the menu:

Antipasto: Prosciutto and Grilled Figs (page 100)
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Pasta: Spaghetti with Green Olive Sauce (Page 168)
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Main: Grilled Jumbo Shrimp with White Beans, Rosemary, and Mint Oil (Page 268)
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Vegetable: Asparagus with Citrus, Parsley, and Garlic (Page 418)
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Dessert: Peaches with Primitivo Syrup (Page 486)
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Total cook time from walking in the door to serving the antipasto: Almost exactly 90 minutes. No significant challenges or special techniques in making these items, the title gives almost an exact description of the ingredients. About the thing requiring an unusual technique was making the red wine syrup for the peaches, but seeing as how this was one of my first successful desserts back when I was learning how to cook, it can’t be that outlandish.

#2 albiston

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Posted 06 July 2005 - 03:11 AM

Kevin,

thanks for the very well written and informative review.

Since I haven't seen the book yet there's one or two things I was wondering about.

I can very well understand that the recycled recipes will be annoying for the m
Mario fans, but what about those that have lived Mario-less up to now? It almost seems to me that this could be a great book for getting to know Batali as cookbook author if one hasn't up to now. Would you say that Mario tried to sum up all the best of his simple recipes in this book?

After all that reading of regional Italian cookbooks for your "A year of Italian cooking" thread, you definitely have a good idea about what regional cuisine is. (if you continue I'll personally pledge for you to have a honorary Italian citizenship :wink: .) I was wondering how much tradition and how much creativity Mario's recipes show. It's intriguing to see how a celebrity chef -given the good dose of self-confdence and even some arrogance he should posses- manages to come to terms with a rather rigid cuisine as Italian family, or if you wish trattoria or even "poor" cuisine.

P.S. great pics, mouthwatering in the truest sense... or maybe it's just that it's lunchtime here :biggrin: .
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#3 Kevin72

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Posted 06 July 2005 - 04:50 AM

I can very well understand that the recycled recipes will be annoying for the m
Mario fans, but what about those that have lived Mario-less up to now? It almost seems to me that this could be a great book for getting to know Batali as cookbook author if one hasn't up to now. Would you say that Mario tried to sum up all the best of his simple recipes in this book?

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That's a good point, and I wondered that, but with only four cookbooks out there, it seems a little early for him to do a "best of". Still, I also think that maybe this is a counterpoint to shows like "Everyday Italian" and its attendant cookbook which have taken over FoodTV. He's definitely drawn a line in the sand and stuck to his guns. He easily has the most esoteric and exotic show on FoodTV, throughout the show's entire run. And so it is with this book: you get fettuccine alfredo recipes sharing space with sweet and sour calves' tongue.

But yes, this is a good starting point to pick up on his works. Despite some of the shortcuts, there's alot in here to like.

After all that reading of regional Italian cookbooks for your "A year of Italian cooking" thread, you definitely have a good idea about what regional cuisine is. (if you continue I'll personally pledge for you to have a honorary Italian citizenship  :wink: .) I was wondering how much tradition and how much creativity Mario's recipes show. It's intriguing to see how a celebrity chef -given the good dose of self-confdence and even some arrogance he should posses- manages to come to terms with a rather rigid cuisine as Italian family, or if you wish trattoria or even "poor" cuisine.

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Thanks for the compliments! I'll take the honorary citizenship, but does it by any chance come with airline mileage? :biggrin:

He really stirs the pot on the tradition thing with this book. Some of his recipes are arch-regional specialties, like the anchovy almond soup from Calabria, or again the fettuccine alfredo recipe that calls for butter only, no cream. Then he does renditions of Italian-American classics, like a cheese-and-herb-whallop of a foccaccia that he ate in San Francisco. Then there's his telltale dishes that come from one of his restaurants. Usually you recognize the basis for the dish, but he'll add his own twist. An example of this is his lemon fettuccine with hot chilies dish. It started out as a Venetian dish of creamy pasta with lemon, but now he adds a jolt of slivered jalapenos to it (and gives the appropriate nod to his Latino kitchen staff for the inspiration). This certainly strays a bit; I thought that the Babbo cookbook, for all its gorgeous photos and recipes, left me more just wanting to eat at his restaurant than run out and make something from it. He insists that the cooking in the Babbo book is true to Italian traditions, but I have a hard time believing that when you have to run out and buy a juicer for one recipe or roast a bunch of mushrooms just to flavor their oil.

But yet he still comes across as humble, at least in his approach to the cuisine, to me. I know quite a few disagree, but he never seems cocky or arrogant about Italian cuisines (maybe it doesn't allow him to!). He knows his stuff, sure, and what would fly and what wouldn't, but he just seems to be perpetually in awe of its microregionality and discovering a new dish. I'm rewatching his Sicilian shows right now and he seems absolutely giddy alot of the times about what he's making, not because he's making it or showing off, but because he had it in Sicily last time he was there and now he's excited to share it. And on top of all that, he's a great, accessible writer and has a solid academic background, so he can solidly convey the cultures and traditions behind a dish.

By the way, can you go more into what you meant by "rigid" in describing Italian cuisine?

#4 little ms foodie

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Posted 06 July 2005 - 08:55 AM

We've been cooking a bit out of the new book too, last night we made the stuffed and fried squash blossoms which were fantastic!

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We've also made his green pasta and used it both for ravioli as well as fettuccini

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amd the veal roll ups (can't find my picture).....so far so good! This is our first Mario book.

#5 Kevin72

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Posted 06 July 2005 - 10:44 AM

Those both look great! Where do you get your zucchini blossoms? When we get them here they seem way too small to stuff and fry, and they also seem a little old.

And his pasta stuff is always dependable.

What do you think of his book? Do you have his others?

Anyone else trying out his new book?

#6 FoodMan

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Posted 06 July 2005 - 11:12 AM

I am glad that the book is being recieved very well over here. I flipped through it at Barnes and Noble and only needed to look through less than half of it before I ordered my copy from Amazon. I love Mario's style and food from his previous books. It is a shame that MM is no longer in production. I should have my book at some point this week.

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#7 little ms foodie

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Posted 06 July 2005 - 11:40 AM

Kevin, this is our first book of Mario's. There was a book signing and tasting here in Seattle at his father's deli Salumi that we attended. All the food was great so we have been excited about doing things out of the book.

We get our blossoms at our local farmer's market. They are picked that morning and are awesome! There is only one stand that usually has them and I buy from her weekly until the are gone. I love them!!

#8 Anna N

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Posted 06 July 2005 - 12:21 PM

Read this thread this morning then had to head out to Cosco for party food for my daughter and lo and behold there was Mario's new book for only $27 Cdn. Couldn't resist. Thanks, Kevin, for the review.
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#9 Kevin72

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Posted 06 July 2005 - 04:17 PM

Thanks everyone. Feel free to share your thoughts of the book or of course meals you make from it.

#10 torakris

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Posted 06 July 2005 - 05:06 PM

Another thank you for an incredible review!

I am working on my to buy list of various things for my upcoming trip to the US and I noticed recently my cookbook list was very short :shock: (only 1 actually).
I haven't been keeping up with all of the new books and this sounds like one I would love, I also have his Babbo book and though I don't cook from it a lot the stuff I have made has been great.

I can't wait to see more pictures!

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#11 albiston

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Posted 07 July 2005 - 08:32 AM

Thanks for the compliments!  I'll take the honorary citizenship, but does it by any chance come with airline mileage?  :biggrin:


I've been lobbying for the same thing, alas to no avail. I bet things would be different if I owned a TV network or two :wink: .

By the way, can you go more into what you meant by "rigid" in describing Italian cuisine?

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Italian cuisine, even when you look at creative top chefs, has to my eyes a dichotomic soul. On one hand it's undeniable that Italian cuisine, or better its many regional splinter fractions, has often been more than enthusiastic in incorporating new ingredients and methods. On the other hand once a recipe has gone past the novelty stage and has become an established classic we tend to be suspicious of anyone playing around with those recipes we consider traditional. Especially if those doing so are foreigners :wink: . Maybe you could substitute conservative or traditionalist for my "rigid".

The ironic downsize of this is that many Italians tend to ignore (consciously or not remains to be seen) our culinary history and just take for granted that our cuisine has developed at home. We are often oblivious about the fact that many of our dishes have been adapted from recipes that were originally Arab, French, Spanish and so on, and at the same time most of us Italians forget or completely ignore that other dishes or culinary terms, tart/torte is a good example, have Italian origins.

In a sense, this idea is something that has developed more and more since I started reading non-Italian food press and my being here on the eGullet Society's forums has played a major role in this. I needed a healthy dose of exposure to the outside world, so to say.
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#12 FoodMan

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Posted 11 July 2005 - 02:31 PM

I got my copy, although I have not cooked anything yet. I am just reading through it and evaluating my options. I just wanted to share a couple of amusing Batali comments from the book.
Reading his intros to recipes is quiet interesting as usual, for example one recipe for olives in tomato sauce, he describes the dish as comforting and compares it to Nigella Lawson, the attractive British food personality. No, not her cooking but to herself :wacko:. I guess he is a fan as well.
In the Intro for his gelato recipe he says that gelato differs from American ice cream in that it has less air whipped in it and has less fat. Well in the recipe he uses 14 egg yolks, cream and milk! Only Mario would use 14 yolks and the words “less fat” in one recipe. Needless to say, I would like to try it ASAP.

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#13 Kevin72

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Posted 12 July 2005 - 05:33 AM

That's like on his show when he adds "a drizzle" of raw oil as a garnish and dumps like a quarter cup on there!

Definitely a different view of things . . .

#14 Nathan P.

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Posted 12 July 2005 - 10:11 PM

I am also in the "this is a decent book" camp. I checked it out at my local library, and while a nice book, it is not the definative piece on Italian cuisine that it seems like Mario could put out. With so many recipes available at foodtv I am putting this onto a buy if you see a good deal but not a must own at the moment. The only thing I cooked directly from the book were the eggplant involtini which were very good. I was happy to see the cauliflower minestra recipe which has been a real go to dish for me over the last few years. Perfect in its simplicity if you have access to the same super sweet fit in the palm of your hand cauliflowers that I have in northern Cal. Another favorite that I think was missing is a simple pasta with walnuts and breadcrumbs. Anyone else agree that his bolognese recipe with tomatoes and stock tastes better than teh tomato paste version? I think if the book had been broken up into a more regional focus I would have been a bit more enthusiastic about it.

#15 Kevin72

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Posted 13 July 2005 - 04:45 AM

Great points all around, Nathan. I'm pretty much in agreement with you, particularly on the regional focus. Mario devoted at least 20 episodes of his cooking show to a region, so there's a backlog of great stuff in there. He's such a good writer and knowledgeable enough that I'd love to see him do a series of region-specific cookbooks. I'll volunteer right now to research and do the legwork!

#16 Kevin72

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Posted 26 July 2005 - 07:37 PM

Tonight, I did a double-whammy: Sicilian dishes that were also out of Molto Italiano.

Antipasto: "Tarongia": Fried flatbread with anchovies, fennel, and cacciocavallo (page 74).
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Flatbread (aka pizza dough) is first fried, then topped with caramelized fennel, marinated anchovies (but I uses sardines) and cacciocavallo (but I used aged provolone), then broiled. And no, Mario doesn't direct you to scorch the flatbread either. Good flavors but the fennel got completely lost between the pungent sardines and the sharp aged cheese.

The secondo was shrimp marsala housewife-style (page 266).
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Onion, chilies, carrot, celery, bay leaves, and fennel seeds are seared in a very hot pan. Then add (all together now,) capers, pine nuts, and raisins/currants, and tomatoes and cook until the tomatoes break down. Put shrimp on top, pour marsala over, cover and cook until the shrimp are cooked through. Heady, brothy, and spicy: everything great about Sicily.

Total prep and cook time: 45 minutes; I made the dough in the morning and left it to rise while I went to work.

Anyone else check out his book, or try more dishes from it?

#17 DaleJ

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Posted 27 July 2005 - 07:03 AM

Kevin, I made the shrimp dish last weekend and was very pleased. Mario's one of my current idols.

#18 FoodMan

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Posted 27 August 2005 - 10:19 PM

As part of my mostly Italian meal today, I made the fried rice balls
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These are absolutly amazing and the recipe works perfectly

I also made the fresh Fettucine with Lemon and chili sauce. this was another winner. The picture really does not do this justice.
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#19 torakris

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Posted 28 August 2005 - 03:07 PM

I just picked up this book but have yet to cook from it, I think I may do one of his pastas for the newest cook-off though.
It is really an incredible book and everything sounds wonderful!! Thank you for the reviews.

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#20 Kevin72

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Posted 01 September 2005 - 04:26 AM

I also made the fresh Fettucine with Lemon and chili sauce. this was another winner. The picture really does not do this justice.
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That recipe caught my eye, too. It's a twist on a "straw and hay" pasta dish with lemon, cream, and radicchio using, obviously, the fresh chilies in place of the radicchio. The original recipe is one of my favorites; you should try it in the winter sometime. The radicchio cooks down so it isn't as bitter, but it does help cut the cream and works nicely with the lemon flavors. Glad you're enjoying the book!

#21 FoodMan

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Posted 02 September 2005 - 07:29 AM

I also made the fresh Fettucine with Lemon and chili sauce. this was another winner. The picture really does not do this justice.
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View Post


That recipe caught my eye, too. It's a twist on a "straw and hay" pasta dish with lemon, cream, and radicchio using, obviously, the fresh chilies in place of the radicchio. The original recipe is one of my favorites; you should try it in the winter sometime. The radicchio cooks down so it isn't as bitter, but it does help cut the cream and works nicely with the lemon flavors. Glad you're enjoying the book!

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Actually you cannot tell here probably, but I decided to make black pepper fettucine instead of the plain one and it worked out nicely.

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#22 Smithy

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Posted 19 September 2005 - 01:36 PM

I have this book in hand, and I'm dithering about whether to keep it or not. It's beautifully photographed, the recipes look great, and yet...I have a pile of cookbooks right now, many of them still untried. What to do, what to do?

In trying to decide whether to keep the book, I've of course been poring over the recipes. I'm curious about Mario's take on an old classic vs. Lynne Rosetto Kasper's take on the same: pasta alfredo. He uses pasta, butter, garlic, cheese, no cream. She describes alfredo sauce "the sexy, Roman way" as using (for one pound of pasta) a stick (quarter pound) of butter, 1 cup of cream, and handsful of good grated parmesan. She did allow as to how, when she's cutting back on the fat, she'll reduce the cream - sometimes to only a quarter of a cup. But it's there, and Mario doesn't list it.

What do others do when they're making pasta alfredo? With cream or without? Not that it matters much to what I plan to do in the future, but I'm curious about whether there's supposed to be a definitive dish, and which way it goes.

Side notes: I'm sure there are other things, like salt, that I'm omitting. This discussion is about cream vs. none. Finally, I have to give LRK credit: once I heard her describe how to make alfredo sauce right around the pasta I've used that riff on many improvised pasta dishes involving smoked salmon, or peppers and mushrooms, or shrimp, or - well, you get the idea. It's a wonderful technique.

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#23 Kevin72

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Posted 19 September 2005 - 01:57 PM

There've been several discussions about Fettucine Alfredo on eG lately, but the ones I'm thinking of were sidebar conversations on a larger thread. At any rate, my understanding of the dish is that in Rome it is made with double or triple cream butter, and since that was not so readily available in the U.S. until recently, cream was substituted. I made it this past spring almost completely to recipe from David Downie's book Cooking the Roman Way (using a stick of double-cream, Plugara butter) and it's one of those things that should be tried at least once to appreciate the real deal. And once is probably all the average adult's cardiovascular system can take.

#24 tupac17616

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Posted 14 November 2007 - 09:21 PM

So, it's been over two years since anyone's posted to this thread, but no time like the present to revive it, I suppose. A couple of days ago I made...

Pollo al Diavolo
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Quite flavorful, very moist, but not spicy enough!

#25 Kevin72

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Posted 15 November 2007 - 10:53 AM

Whoah. That's an uncanny resemblance, Tupac! Good show.

That's not like Mario to back down on spice, but then again, his recipes have been notably problematic. I also have seen ingredients in the pic that aren't listed or explained in the dish, too.

I went back through the book again recently and was amazed that there was more I wanted to cook out of the Babbo cookbook than this one. I still get frustrated by the redundancy with his other works and that too many recipes are just variations of each other.

#26 Katie Meadow

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Posted 15 November 2007 - 11:30 AM

That chicken is inspiring. My kid comes home from college this weekend and perhaps I will make it! I am relatively new to eG and was pleased to see this thread, since I am very fond of this book. I have no other Mario cookbooks; I've looked at them but Molto Italiano appeals in its simplicity. I've made many of the recipes and so far only one has been a failure. Currently I am completely enamored of that simple little clementine dessert w/balsamic and pepper. I have citrus cravings in the afternoon and this is just perfect.

Kevin, about problematic: has anyone made the radicchio pancakes? There's a wacky mistake in the recipe. Maybe he has a lazy editor. The ingredients list calls for 4 tbsps unsalted butter. In the direx there isn't a single mention of this butter. That's fine with me, since I try to avoid butter, but what would it be for? I ignore it and they are wonderful, with or without the ricotta salata. I usually have radicchio and eggs around, so this is a perfect emergency meal.

I have made the mostarda several times and served it as an app w/the suggested coppa, always to rave reviews. Recently I served a splurge dinner of the veal shanks and it was really easy (albeit absurdly expensive) and really excellent. I find his simple tomato sauce with thyme incredibly versatile. I keep it frozen and use it for all kinds of stuff--like the cauliflower soup and the shanks, but also for my own lasagne and eggplant parm.

The failure, by the way, was the Artichokes Roman Style. It was labor intensive and no one liked it. Could have been lousy artichokes, but I don't think so. Maybe I like artichokes better when sauteed til crispy instead of simmered as these are done. I like his tomato sauce on pasta topped with crispy artichoke hearts.

#27 Kevin72

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Posted 15 November 2007 - 11:35 AM

What happened with the artichokes?

I've not tried his recipe specifically, but I do like Carciofi alla Romana. You have to braise the hell out of them, though, and only serve them when a knife tip sinks in easily.

#28 Katie Meadow

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Posted 15 November 2007 - 01:19 PM

Dunno! The texture was fine, they were cooked to the right degree of doneness--knife-tender as you say--and the dish looked lovely in the serving bowl. As far as I know I followed the direx closely, didn't make any gross errors or omissions. I cook with fresh chokes a lot, all seasons, and sometimes they are more flavorful than other times, but I've never had a "bad batch" so I doubt the vegetable was at fault. This method of cooking just didn't seem to bring out the best in artichoke flavor. Maybe it just isn't a good recipe? No one (except of course my husband after the guests were gone) said a critical word about them, but no one said anything good either, and there was some leftover--never a good sign when it comes to a small veg side-dish. I choked those down (aww) the next day out of principle. It was simply... underwhelming. You make it and lemme know what you think.

#29 tupac17616

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Posted 16 November 2007 - 12:35 AM

I still get frustrated by the redundancy with his other works and that too many recipes are just variations of each other.

Tell me about it!

#30 tupac17616

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Posted 18 November 2007 - 03:15 PM

Using Batali's caponata recipe as a rough starting point, last night I had:

Eggplant Caponata with Cinnamon-Scented Rice and Seared White Tuna
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